In Britain, breeding is everything. You do not rise to your station, you are born into it. As Ladies of London star Caroline Stanbury explains, "Britain is one of the toughest societies in the world to crack, for both nobles and newcomers alike. In other countries you can buy your way into society. England isn't like that. You can buy your seat at the table but it doesn't mean you are going to be accepted into it." (e.g., The Unwritten Rules of London High Society)
At the New York Academy of Music, an exclusive venue for opera from 1854, 18 private boxes were monopolised by an old elite of Roosevelts, Stuyvesants and others. Most arrivistes reluctantly put up with this arrangement. But William Vanderbilt, a rail-and-shipping magnate's son, refused to settle for a seat in the stalls: he bid $30,000 for a box—and was rebuffed.
In riposte, he and other parvenus, including Goulds, Whitneys, Rockefellers and Morgans, contributed $10,000 each to incorporate a new opera boasting 122 private boxes, the Metropolitan Opera House Company. Unable to compete, the Academy of Music closed in 1885: “I cannot fight Wall Street,” lamented its owner. Old money had no choice but to join the Met, and differences were quickly forgotten as the two foes found common cause in keeping out the next generation of newcomers. (That Other Guilded Age)
In June, a Quebec man named Farid Benzenati arrived at his house in Montreal’s east end to see a dog outside, wrestling with a large object. The dog was new to the Pointe-Aux-Trembles neighborhood, and Benzenati at first dismissed the tussle in the neighbor’s backyard as playful. But then he saw human hair.
“It was hard to see, but I knew it was a woman’s body,” Benzenati told CBC. “I saw blood, and the dog was still attacking her.”
Police found Benzenati’s neighbor, 55-year-old Christiane Vadnais, mauled to death. Responders pronounced Vadnais dead at the scene. Officers shot and killed the animal, which they described as a pit bull.
Vadnais’s family demanded a response. Serge Vadnais, her brother, asked the Quebec government to ban dangerous dog breeds: “As soon as possible, not in two years, now,” he said in a June 11 interview with CBC. Since 2005, the nearby province of Ontario had banned pit bulls, and Quebec was also considering similar legislation. (A dog fatally mauled a Canadian woman 3 months ago. Now, Montreal has banned pit bulls.)
Consider as well the management of statistics to engage in the management of breed.
Pit bulls make up only 6% of the dog population, but they’re responsible for 68% of dog attacks and 52% of dog-related deaths since 1982, according to research compiled by Merritt Clifton, editor of Animals 24-7, an animal-news organization that focuses on humane work and animal-cruelty prevention.But what makes this more interesting is the convergence of breed based assaults on Pitt Bulls and their connection with African Americans in the United States. There appears to be a parallel in the discourse of Pitt Bull aggression, on the one hand, and dog fighting and drug dealing in connection with which race is also implicated. This conflates race, breed, racial and breed characteristics in a subtle and unstated way, with the general population the victim of that double racialized conflation: "“If you need a marker in your head for when pit bulls got out of control, it’s 2007 with Michael Vick,” Lynn says. Vick’s high-profile trial for dogfighting and cruelty to animals roused a growing sympathy for pit bulls, which led more people to adopt them and bring them into their homes." (Ibid, quoting Colleen Lynn, president and founder of DogsBite.org, a national dog-bite-victims group dedicated to reducing dog attacks).
. . . .
Clifton says he’s seen an unprecedented rise in dog maulings in recent years, as more pit bulls enter the shelter system. Between 1858 and 2000, there are only two recorded instances of shelter dogs killing humans. From 2000 to 2009, there were three fatal attacks involving shelter dogs (one pit bull, one breed similar to a pit bull, and one Doberman). But from 2010 to 2014, there have been 35 shelter dogs who fatally attacked humans. All but 11 were pit bulls. (The Problem With Pit Bulls).
And indeed, this subtext has not been lost on the general population. Consider one letter to the editor in Baltimore Maryland in 2012:
Those who speak of innate pit bull violence are thus showing a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of all domesticated dogs, any of which can turn violent under the right (or in this case, wrong) circumstances. But it also shows something else. In Baltimore, like many other places, pit bulls are associated with dog fighting and black, urban violence. To say otherwise is dishonest, and the fact that pit bulls are singled out when bigger more powerful dogs like Rottweilers are not to me is clear evidences that some sort of bias is in play. Using the well documented notion of institutional racial bias in the legal system, this implicates the court's claim that pit bulls are "inherently violent." (You can't separate pit bull prejudice from racial prejudice)And it has not been lost on the African American community in the United States.
In the wake of the disgusting Michael Vick dog fighting case, it was easy to think that black people, black men in particular, don't care much for man's best friend. The 53 pit bulls bred for fighting found on the NFL quarterback's Virginia property are facing euthanasia. But at least 17 others weren't that lucky. Their remains have already been found. Some were electrocuted or drowned with Vick's help because they didn't fight ferociously enough. Then sheriff's deputies found three dog carcasses and several malnourished pit bulls on rapper DMX's Arizona property. Ving Rhames had to defend himself, his English bulldog and three bull mastiffs against charges the dogs killed a housekeeper while Rhames was out of town. And then, Whoopi Goldberg, decided to publicize her arrival on The View by offering a cultural explanation for all of this. There is none. (Black Men and Dogs: Don't Believe Vick).Yasmin Nair drew the connection between race, racial construction and the construction of the Pitt Bull in an August 2016 essay for Current Affairs (Racism and the American Pit Bull). It appeared to some that to speak about Pitt Bulls was a means of speaking about their owners. In both cases these connections were markers of connections that were engineered and cemented with just enough social science to make the connection plausible enough to legitimate political action.
The media vilification of pit bulls soon followed. Dickey suggests that the creation of the 24-hours news cycle, inaugurated by CNN in 1980, represented a turning point. The rise of cable television created a salacious interest in “ghetto” and “thug” stories, and the news networks loved to report on the viciousness of urban “animals” both canine and human. A July 1987 Sports Illustrated story about pit bulls featured a cover illustration of the dog snarling, open-mouthed, with fangs on full display. The title in large print and all caps: “BEWARE OF THIS DOG.” During this time, at the height of the Drug War, the media similarly stigmatized Latino and Black men. They were treated as toxic carriers of drug addiction and social dysfunction, much as rats and other animals have been cast as sources of disease. (Racism and the American Pit Bull).Again, breeding melds act with purpose, and it attaches power relations to purpose (e.g., Bronwen Dickey, Pit Bull: The Battle over an American Icon (noting race and cultural stereotype in the animal welfare rights and dog fighting context, 2016). But in the case of pit fighting, one that also embraced class issues and inter-ethnic hierarchies (e.g., Heidi J. Nast, Pitt Bulls, Slavery and Whiteness, in Critical Animal Geographies (Kathryn Gillespie, Rosemary-Claire Collard, eds., 2015) 127).
The ease with which our societies racialize dogs suggests the strength and depth of societal willingness--everyone, not just those at the top of particular hierarchies founded on race--to keep racial classification alive and to invest societal discussions about dog breeds with cultural significance in the area of social differentiation (in matters of race and culturally significant speech, see, here). The dog becomes the sign that gives meaning for itself, and through that meaning making also masks meaning making for societal differentiation among individuals. This easy conflation ought to trouble. It ought to remind social actors that breed continues to matter; that societies grounded in breeding and in good breeding build structures grounded in breed. It is a reminder that social differentiation remains an important element of social organization. But that this appears to be a general condition, one to which no human "breed" is immune. And it suggests that in speaking about our dogs--in seeking to breed them, manage them, make them better, draw conclusions about their inherent characteristics--society may well be talking about itself.